By Ben Ezeamalu
An aviation consultant and member of the Ministerial Committee for Safety Recommendation of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has faulted the agency’s emergency response in the minutes leading to the Dana air crash.
John Ojikutu, a retired Group Captain, told the coroner, on Tuesday, that NAMA’s deposition to the court failed to give the complete picture of what transpired on June 3.
NAMA had deposed a written statement of oath, two weeks ago, accompanied by a transcript of the conversation between the pilot and the Lagos Air Traffic Controller (ATC) as well as the voice recording between the pilots during the ill-fated flight.
The Dana aircraft was airborne at 2:58 p.m. and estimated to arrive at Lagos by 3:45 p.m., according to the preliminary report of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).
The Cockpit Voice Recording began playing a “discussion about non-formal correlation between the throttle and the two engines at about 3:15 p.m., said Mr. Ojikutu.
“AIB started picking the communication about 17 minutes after the aircraft has taken off, and about that same time, something was going on,” Mr. Ojikutu, a trained ATC, said.
The aviation consultant outlined the stages of aircraft communication between departure and arrival: Abuja Tower – Abuja Departure – Kano Area Control – Lagos Area Control – Lagos Approach – Lagos Tower.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to know what the Abuja tower was talking to the aircraft, what the Kano Area Control was talking to the aircraft, before it handed over to the Lagos Area Control,” said Mr. Ojikutu.
“When they were preparing the aircraft to land, the First Officer inquired ‘are the two engines coming up?’ That means the two engines were down.
“At 3:42 p.m., they radioed emergency. At 3:43 p.m., the captain informed the First Officer that ‘we lost everything.’ After that, nothing was recorded on the CVR.
“The agency responsible for that flight, NAMA, which was supposed to give us 45 minutes of that flight, only gave us 13 minutes. What happened to the remaining 32 minutes?” asked Mr. Ojikutu.
“It is not when an aircraft crashes that you activate emergency. Emergency starts from the moment you notice that something is wrong with the operation of the aircraft. We didn’t see it here until the distress period,” he added.
A CHARGED COURT ROOM
At the inception of Mr. Ojikutu’s testimony, tempers shot up and emotions clashed, mostly between the retired Air Force officer and Obi Okwusogu, counsel to Dana Air.
The drama continued throughout his testimony as Mr. Okwusogu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, cross-examined the witness for a record four hours, the longest by any counsel since the inquest began.
“It will be injustice to allow that criticism. I’ll not sit here and allow that armchair critique,” said the usually calm lawyer, when Mr. Ojikutu began his testimony by pointing out the flaws in NAMA earlier deposition to the court.
“The witness cannot go on to use the evidence having tendered by others. What he is attempting to do is criticize; on what basis?
“If you are an expert, give us your resume so we’ll know where you are coming from,” the senior advocate added.
Periodic intervention by Oyetade Komolafe, the coroner, soothed frayed nerves, but the court room remained charged.
“We are not in contest in this. And I want people to calm down,” he said.
Going further in his testimony, Mr. Ojikutu noted that as a member of the Presidential Committee on Aviation Safety in 2007, they discovered a lot of lapses in the aviation sector.
“There was an air traffic controller in Kaduna who cleared an aircraft, didn’t see it land, and went home to sleep.
“The following day, he said he thought it landed at the military base,” Mr. Ojikutu said.
“When Bellview crashed, one of the things we discovered was that the radar was working on that day, but there was no radar controller on duty.
“Sosoliso crashed right in front of a fire station. We visited the operation room at the airport, the whole radio was dead. So how did the man on duty communicate with other officers? He opened the curtains and shouted to the officer?” the consultant asked rhetorically